Daly made it to the college ranks in 1963 by sending a letter to then Duke coach Vic Bubas, who later called, as Daly says, "out of the blue" to offer him an assistant's job. But it wasn't Daly's show, and even six years later, when he became head coach at Boston College, he was overshadowed: He took over from Bob Cousy, who could recruit players by spinning a ball on his fingers and showing old photos of his glory years with the Boston Celtics. Daly went 26-24 in two seasons (1969-70 and '70-71) at BC and then moved on to Penn for six seasons. There he had a .767 winning percentage, but the Quakers didn't reach the Final Four until two seasons after Daly left.
In November 1977, weary of Ivy League recruiting restrictions and the can't-win comparisons with Princeton coach Pete Carril, Daly put aside his reservations about the NBA—"I saw it as a place where great players went out and got themselves shots and that was about it," he says—and accepted an offer from coach Billy Cunningham to be an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers. Early in the 1981-82 season, mercurial Cleveland Cavalier owner Ted Stepien asked Daly to be his coach. Daly lasted for 41 games, 32 of them losses, before he got Stepiened on.
Daly went back to Philly to work as a color commentator on 76er games during the 1982-83 season, and—wouldn't you know it?—the Sixers won the NBA championship. When the call came in May 1983 asking Daly to be coach of the sad-sack Pistons, who had suffered through six straight losing seasons, he accepted. Actually, Daly had turned down Detroit general manager Jack McCloskey's offer of the job two years earlier because he didn't think the money was enough to warrant his leaving his assistant coach's slot in Philadelphia, a harbinger of his future difficulties in Detroit. But now was the time—Daly was nearly 53, and his coach's biological clock was ticking—so he signed on with the Pistons for less than $100,000, roughly the same salary that McCloskey had originally offered.
Here's what people in Detroit knew about their new coach: He was quick with a joke or to light up your smoke, and he looked terrific in a suit. But could he transcend his warmup-act status?
It took him six seasons, but Daly did it. And he did it at an age when most coaches have lost their jobs, their sanity, their sense of humor—and their hair.
Chuck acquired his sense of style from his father, Earl, and his high school coach, Stuart Edwards. Earl Daly, who died in 1954, was a traveling salesman from Kane, a small town about 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. He was a sharp dresser with a breezy manner and an excellent tenor voice, which served him well in local theatrical productions. Chuck got the dressing and the breeziness parts down O.K., but his baritone singing voice is only average. He has dreamed of singing before an audience for a half century now, but it will probably never happen. "That's why K.C. Jones is one of my heroes," says Daly, only half-kidding. (Jones, the former Celtic All-Star and erstwhile coach of the Washington Bullets and Celtics, has an excellent voice and can be coaxed into a public performance with the request, "K.C, would you sing?")
Edwards looked like a coach. "He made such an impression on people," says Daly. "Well-dressed, always well-dressed. Good-looking man. He had presence. I modeled myself after him." Daly may have been born and raised in Kane, but no law said he couldn't dress like Billy Eckstine (whom Daly describes as "a heavy stylistic influence").
The larger point is this: Though Daly takes fashion very seriously, that does not mean he takes himself seriously. That's his saving grace. Shopping is a serious hobby, perhaps even an obsession, but he has fun with it. He freely admits, for example, that though he is a world-class window-shopper, he's not an extravagant buyer. He would rather face Michael Jordan every night of the season than pay retail prices. As his wife, Terry, who knew him in his college days at Bloomsburg, says, "He knows how to hit the sales."
Though he'll talk about clothes for hours, he steadfastly refuses—on or off the record—to reveal the extent of his wardrobe. He feels a little guilty about all those clothes—you can take the boy out of Kane but you can't...—so he makes jokes about them. "Look, if I showed you my closet, it would ruin the mystique," he'll say. "I've been saying for years that all my clothes are rented. And I can tell you it's tough to get them back before midnight in certain cities."
Come on, Chuck. Fifty suits? A hundred?